Cricket: DeFreitas comes in from the cold: England all-rounder stands the test of time after finally making right career move. Martin Johnson reports

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The Independent Online
JUST like Capt Oates, he has always threatened to be gone for some time, but if the Antarctic explorer had had Phillip DeFreitas's survival instincts, he would have been back inside the tent within 10 minutes with a plate of herrings, a couple of duvets and an electric fire.

It is more than eight years since DeFreitas was first invited into Ian Botham's fitting room, since when the curtain has been replaced with a set of revolving doors. In that time, DeFreitas has played in 34 Test matches and 85 one-day internationals, but has been in and out on selectorial whim no less than 23 times.

There have been too many false dawns for DeFreitas's latest comeback, impressive though it was, to be accompanied by a confident prediction of permanency. However, he is now mature enough, and at 28 still young enough, to finally nail down the vacancy re-created by Chris Lewis reacting to the Superman role as though he has had half a ton of Kryptonite shoved down the back of his tights.

DeFreitas has now arrived via Leicestershire and Lancashire at Derbyshire, which in cricketing terms looks more like a career move down the snake than up the ladder. This, though, is not a view shared by his new county captain, Kim Barnett.

'We made him an offer before he went to Lancashire and in all honesty I think he'd have been better off coming here,' Barnett said. 'He finds it much more relaxed, with less pressure away from the spotlight of a big, demanding club and more accommodating pitches on which to bowl. We also offered him the chance to re-establish himself as a genuine all-rounder by batting him up the order and he has responded quite superbly.

'Daffy was a little late maturing as a character and had the tendency to throw the odd wobbler when things went against him. People forget how young he was when it began to happen for him. Our media is so intense that there are dangers and pitfalls along with the potential glamour and I firmly believe the best is yet to come from him.'

The parallels between DeFreitas and Lewis, who were school-mates at Willesden High and began their careers at Leicestershire, have often been drawn, but in point of fact the two could scarcely be more different characters.

During his early career, DeFreitas was much more dependent on others, requiring a constant massaging of the ego, and with his non-suspicious nature, rarely looked too deeply into either himself or others. Lewis, on the other hand, is more of a loner, with an unshakeable belief in what is right for him. While DeFreitas left Leicestershire in a huff, for Lewis it was a cold-eyed career move.

DeFreitas's early exposure to two far stronger characters left its mark. On his first England tour, to Australia in 1986-87, Botham took him under his wing and, while he was a good influence in pure cricketing input, DeFreitas did not have the maturity to make a sober assessment of the Botham's 'live for the moment and bugger authority' philosophy on life.

Besides which, Botham was unique, a thought that perhaps only first occurred to DeFreitas during the Melbourne Test in 1986 when he bowled eight high-class overs with the new ball without taking a wicket, retired perspiring to fine leg, and watched Botham (who was only half fit with a rib injury) take five wickets with an assortment of gentle lollipops.

Having absorbed Botham's two- fingered approach to authority rather too well for his own good, DeFreitas then returned for another summer at Leicestershire, where a new captain, Peter Willey, had just been installed. Willey always had a soft spot for DeFreitas, but the desire to promote his own macho image, plus an understandable urge not to see the young man get too big for his boots, led to an unfortunate reunion.

Willey invited DeFreitas to see how he would enjoy bowling uphill into the wind with an old ball, and DeFreitas responded with something more like off-spin than fast- medium. Things deteriorated. DeFreitas's reaction to having his kit thrown off the balcony by Jonathan Agnew (in retaliation for a dining-room prank) was to storm off home in mid-match, and he and Leicestershire were finally divorced at the end of the following summer.

Initially, things went well at Lancashire, but that, too, was to end in tears. DeFreitas's major reason for leaving - to move closer to his in-laws in Burton-on- Trent because of his daughter Alexandra's asthmatic condition - was genuine enough. But in Lancashire's powerful line-up, he was reduced to a down-the-order slogger, and his bowling had become ordinary and dispirited on Old Trafford's flat surfaces.

However, DeFreitas is now very much the family man (scarcely a sentence goes by without him referring to his daughter as 'the little one') and his wife, Nicola, has even got him interested in visiting stately homes. He is not quite into the pipe and slippers, but this new found stability may still be the making of him.

DeFreitas himself says: 'Personally I think I suffered from people urging me to bowl too fast and it is only recently that I decided to do what I felt was best for me. I have been prone to feeling low in the past, which is why being in and out of the England side prompted me to sign for Mike Gatting's South Africa tour in 1989.

'However, I realised pretty quickly that all I really wanted to do was play for England - play for nothing if I had to - and I changed my mind. I am a much more relaxed person now than I used to be and nothing made me happier than passing 100 Test wickets at Trent Bridge.

'With the family and the move to Derbyshire settled I had a very good winter with Boland in South Africa, where I basically got my mind right again. My batting was much more responsible and I now feel I'm bowling as well as I've ever done. With my record, it's perhaps a bit dangerous to be over-optimistic, but I honestly feel that I'm more physically and mentally tuned in than I've ever been and that I can play for England for a long time. That's all I've ever really wanted.'

(Photograph omitted)

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